Why are BMW grilles getting bigger

The development of the BMW kidney from 1933 to the present day

There are cars that seem "doomed" to stay the same forever, like an eternal Dorian Gray, because tradition and public opinion want them to be linked to an unchanging image. In a way, BMW is in this strange and privileged state. The typical double kidney grill, as the Anglophones call it, has been part of the inventory of trademarks there for almost 90 years.

A design detail that has changed many times since 1933 and that seems to be getting bigger and bigger, like the next hotly debated BMW 4 Series Coupé. But where does the BMW "double kidney" come from and how has it developed over the years? Let's find out together!

More about BMW history:

Pointed cooler for aerodynamics

Initially, however, Munich and Eisenach did not even have a legendary trademark in mind. When the BMW 303 was born in 1933, the double kidney grille was nothing more than a radiator grille that was divided into two long vertical surfaces that sloped outwards and backwards.

This first aerodynamic idea of ​​a radiator grille goes back to the designer Fritz Fiedler, who created a legend that still lives on cars in Munich today. Over time, the iconic radiator grille has changed in height, width, shape and position, but whoever sees it knows at a glance that the car in front of it is a BMW.

The BMW 328 causes a sensation on the racetrack

Among the cars that made the BMW brand (and with it the radiator grille ...) famous in Europe and around the world, the most famous is certainly the BMW 328 designed for motorsport. He dominated his class to an unbelievable degree.

The style was even carried over to the luxurious 327. In the vehicles that were built as BMWs in Eisenach after 1945, the narrow, high kidney grille lived on until the 1950s. In 1951, car production started again in Munich with the 501 and 502 models, which, with a few changes, took up the double kidney from the pre-war era. But with the exclusive BMW 503 (bottom right) things started to change. Its front section shows an almost stylized radiator grille that has shrunk in height.

With the 507, the grill becomes wider

A complete revolution comes with the BMW 507 from 1955. Thanks to Albrecht Graf Goertz's pen, the spectacular roadster has a double horizontal kidney. It is an integral part of the design between the two protruding headlights and the pronounced fenders.

A similar stylistic solution that merges with low, sporty lines was used in the BMW Z8 in 1999. The roadster was designed by Henrik Fisker under the direction of Chris Bangle and is a declared homage to the ancestor 507.

The evolution of the horizontal double cardioid

The idea of ​​the BMW double kidney grille, which is based on the horizontal connecting line between the headlights, has also developed in recent years in the new BMW 3, 5 and 8 series. The electric BMW i3 does the same thing, but with a small, closed radiator grille because the kidney does not have the function of supplying air to the engine, and in the same way the BMW i8 stylizes and "sublimates" the elongated horizontal radiator grille a little like the Z4, including its new generation.

The front section of the BMW Vision ConnectedDrive (2011) and BMW Vision M NEXT (2019) concepts goes in the same direction, but they use even more complex polygonal shapes for the famous grill.

Kidney plus radiator mask for 20 years

Instead, we return to the development of the original double cardioid, which has long two vertical elements. Both the 3200 CS and the famous "New Class" from 1962 began to integrate them into a larger grille that took up almost the entire front end.

The idea of ​​the grille in the grille is destined to survive for many years in BMW production, such as the 02 series from 1966, the E3 and the E9, all of which are famous forerunners of series that have been the picture since the 1970s shape from BMW.

The era of round headlights

The first BMW 5 Series from 1972, the BMW 3 Series from 1975 and the BMW 7 Series from 1977 crystallize this characteristic aspect of the BMW models when viewed from the front: a tradition that results from a small central double kidney and a large black mask with two or four composed of round headlights. A "face" that BMW showed for almost twenty years and that will be remembered by enthusiasts.

BMW models without round headlights were an exception: the BMW M1, the first 8 Series and the Z1 were all recognizable by the tiny double kidney grille in the pointed front section. Here the famous grill was almost an age-old reminder of the past that doesn't know whether to go away or stay.

The kidney becomes a design element

In reality, of course, the kidney grille from BMW did not go away. From the 1990s onwards, it increasingly became an integral part of the design language and prominently occupied almost the entire front end of the 7-series, the BMW Z3, ​​X5 and the aforementioned sedans, coupes and convertibles of the 3 and 5-series.

The trend towards the large radiator grille was confirmed with the new series in the 2000s, the 1, 6, X1 and X3.

It keeps getting bigger

In the last ten years, BMW has begun to "stimulate" its audience with a number of innovations with regard to the styling of the double kidney grille, partly with concepts and partly with production vehicles, such as the 5 Series from 2017.

With the BMW X5 from 2018, the largest horizontal and vertical kidney grille to date celebrated its debut, a huge chrome-plated strip element that dominates the front end and culminates with the BMW 7 Series from 2019 and the X7 from the same year. Mockers sometimes compare this grill to a radiator.

Before that, however, there was already the BMW Pininfarina Gran Lusso Coupe Concept from 2013 and the BMW Vision Future Luxury from 2014.

The return of the 328 style vertical grill

In 2011, a kind of race for the verticalization of the double kidney grille began, a style suggestion that has not yet reached production cars, but will probably be implemented in 2020 with the new 4-series in the coupé and convertible with a delay of almost ten years.

The start of this new fashion was the BMW 328 Hommage, a concept that, inspired by its ancestor of the same name, emphasizes the radiator grille with two elements that extend from the bonnet almost to the floor.

Massive double cardioid or stylized?

Something similar, but closer to the idea of ​​mass production, was the BMW 3.0 CSL Hommage in 2014, followed by the Vision Next 100 in 2016 and finally the Concept 4 (2019) and Concept i4 (2020), which featured the 4 Series Coupé and the anticipate electric i4.

The prototypes, which are based on the historical form of the double kidney, but reduce them to a kind of quotation, look even further ahead. This is particularly evident when looking at future electric cars from BMW: the i Vision Dynamics from 2017 and the iNEXT and Concept iX3 from 2018.

The BMW completely without a double kidney

There are also exceptions at BMW that do not even wear the famous grill. Simply because the engine was in the back. The little Isetta, her bigger brother 600 and the 700 that saved BMW have a "silent" front section instead.

At the moment they are the only BMWs without the double kidney grille, if you exclude the 3/15 and 3/20 of the 1920s and 1930s and the fleeting BMW 340 from 1949, which soon lost the blue and white emblem to share with to adopt the red and white EMW logo for a new grill.

The "non-BMW" with double kidney

In addition to EMW, there were two companies in Great Britain whose cars were adorned with the typical BMW kidney grille. With good reason: Frazer-Nash officially imported BMW vehicles in the 1930s. After the war, Frazer-Nash worked closely with Bristol and further developed the engine of the BMW 328. There, the BMW 327 became the Bristol 400, and BMW engineer Fritz Fiedler was also won over.

Among the curiosities, it is worth noting that several designers and coachbuilders have tried over the years to change the shape of the BMW double kidney, right down to the rectangular kidney of the Spicup from 1969 and the double diamond look on the BMW Garmisch (1970), both from Bertone. In comparison to the usual "overturned" double kidney is instead that of the BMW X2, in which the long sides are inclined upwards instead of downwards.

Photo gallery: The development of the BMW kidney from 1933 to the present day